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Artwork by Chris Daze Ellis on display at Childs Gallery

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Artwork by Chris Daze Ellis on display at Childs Gallery
“Strays on the Deuce,” by Chris Daze Ellis. (Photo: Courtesy Childs Gallery)

Chris Daze Ellis’ first artworks were painted on the walls of NYC subway stations in the mid-’70s, during his time at the High School of Art & Design. Thirty years later, he’s transitioned to the canvas, but his show “The Asphalt Jungle,” at Childs Gallery through Jan. 7, has all the grit and fervor of his street art origins.

An intimate show, the handful of oil and spray-painted works express the dualities of living in a city that’s both glamorous and ghetto. In “Velocity,” Ellis portrays a man in a suit walking determinedly past the bright lights of Times Square. These symbols of wealth and status are juxtaposed next to a smattering of graffiti marks on the bottom of the canvas and an ominous NYPD car creeping onto the foreground. They provide a perpetual reminder that no matter how bright the lights, the city is never safe, especially for a black man.

Author: Courtesy Childs Gallery“Guardian of the Rails,” by Chris Daze Ellis.

On the Web

For more on “The Asphalt Jungle,” visit: www.childsgallery…

Grit and polish

Ellis’ canvases all have the textural intrigue of subway spray paint. Smooth oil strokes dissolve into chunks of dripping acrylic, which tumble into literal rough patches of chunky media. The result is a fascinating marriage between the grit of underworld art and the gallery-friendly nature of oil-painted canvas. The first work Ellis ever sold was the product of a collaboration with Basquiat, a clear sign that he was in exactly the right place at the right time. His natural talent benefited from exposure to both the formal art world, in gallery shows as far flung as Monte Carlo, Hong Kong and Singapore, and friendship with against-the-grain creatives like Basquiat and Haring.

In “Guardian of the Rails,” a fox walks along underground subway tracks. The upper half of the painting shows the rails disappearing into the distance, while the lower half is blurred by graffiti tags and acrylic blotches. Both fringes of the city, the urban graffiti artist and the natural world, have found refuge in the underground.

Subtlety is a hallmark of Ellis’s work. His allusions to the hardship of city life are delicately wrapped in the anarchic beauty of graffiti tradition. The subtlety comes with an edge in the form of confrontation. Many of his characters directly engage with the viewer. It feels like a challenge, as if to say, “This is the world we live in, do you have what it takes to survive?” Ultimately, Ellis’s work brings a different type of mastery to the Newbury Street gallery scene. He proves that there is beauty to be found in the forgotten fringes of urban life.